Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Jairo Moreno


This dissertation analyzes the musical and sonic work of Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono, and Karen Finley from the 1980s to demonstrate how these artists participated in a mode of aesthetic activism that contributed to knowledge production and organization regarding public health, censorship, pornography, national security, and reproductive technologies. In particular, I consider biopolitical tensions in New York City during this period concerning the social stratification of particular bodies defined by the early years of the AIDS epidemic; the practices and systems of new communication technologies, such as voice processing techniques in electronic music performance; the censorship and classification of obscene and pornographic music as determined by the Parents Music Resource Center under Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Taskforce on the Arts and Humanities; and the categorization of personhood in the wake of new assisted reproductive technologies. I argue that Anderson, Ono, and Finley’s performance art and multimedia repertoire address intersections of social and viral contagion, new technologies, and political conservatism at both the national level in the United States and the municipal level in New York City. I analyze the nature of these artists’ interventions into the social field and consider what is at stake politically in musicking’s participating in broader logics of immunity and technology.


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